A garden planted for the first time this year at Gulfport Montessori Elementary School has resulted not only in vegetables, but in growing interest among the first and second graders who have tended the seeds.
The garden, in a corner in the courtyard near the fifth grade classroom, produced vegetables that the children have picked, cleaned, cooked and eaten. In the process they’ve learned that they don’t have to buy all their food in a store: They can actually grow it in their own backyard.
“Part of it was to show the kids they could grow stuff they could eventually eat,” Montessori teacher Penny Dawson, whose 18 students are responsible for the garden, said Tuesday, March 29.
The project was the result of a chance meeting last spring between Dawson and Cathy Tyson Marsh of Gulfport’s Community Garden. They discussed planting a garden as a learning experience, and by the end of the school year the children had spread out all the soil and compost, and laid down newspapers to kill the weeds.
When the students returned in the fall, they planted the seeds.
“We wanted everything to be edible,” including the flowers, said Marsh, whose granddaughter Vanessa Marsh is a second grader in Dawson’s class. “We tried to pick stuff that was easy to grow.” By planting seeds instead of seedlings, she said, “they got to see it all the way through, until they picked it.”
From the beginning, the students, who also do all the watering and weeding, launched themselves into the project with great enthusiasm.
“They were like little beavers,” said Vanessa’s grandfather, Jeff Marsh.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but they persevered. It took a while to get the fifth graders to stop using the garden as a short cut and running over the vegetable mounds like an obstacle course. Later, a whole row of plants, including the tomatoes and eggplants, was accidentally killed off by bleach used to clean the roof of the building.
When the vegetables started maturing in February, the children got to sample some of their products. They have roasted turnips and stewed turnip greens, and made salads that they’ve shared with the fifth graders as a reward for not trampling their plants. Soon they’ll be making kale chips and harvesting squash.
The children say they’ve enjoyed the various aspects of the project.
“I like it a lot because sometimes I find frogs and stuff, and I like to look at them,” Vanessa said. “And I like picking the weeds.”
“It’s fun and you get to pick it and you get to have a delicious dinner after it’s cooked,” said her classmate Joshua Gibbons.
Asked about things like worms that go along with work in the garden, Joshua said: “Worms are kind of slimy, but they have a good texture and they help the plants live.”